Jeremiah Masoli had plenty to smile about today as his Oregon Ducks smashed #6 Cal, 42-3.

Jeremiah Masoli had plenty to smile about today as his Oregon Ducks smashed #6 Cal, 42-3.

Every week of the college football season there tends to be some atrition within the ranks of the unbeaten.  This weekend proved to be no different, as it seemed like there were an unusually high amount of teams getting handed their first loss.  Most notable of these teams are Ole Miss, Cal, and Miami-Fla, who will all be coming out of the Top 10 on Monday morning.

Let’s start with the Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels, who proved to be a good bit overrated, especially on the offensive side of the ball in their 16-10 letdown

The Ol Ball Coach looked like he was on top of his game in the Gamecocks triumph over Ole Miss

The Ol' Ball Coach looked like he was on top of his game in the Gamecocks triumph over Ole Miss

 against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Thursday night.  Heisman darkhorse Jevan Snead looked like anything but that as he was a miserable 7/21 for 107 yards and one long TD pass that brought the slimmest amount of credibility to his lackluster performance.  Tailback Dexter McCluster wasn’t much better, as he was limited to 15 carries for 85 yards, in part due to the good pressure put on the Rebs’ O-Line by a strong South Carolina rush.  The surprise of the game would definitely have to be the strong play of Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia, who wasn’t spectacular, but did what he had to do in order to give his team only its 2nd win in 34 tries against Top 5 opponents and the program’s first in 27 years.  Steve Spurrier desperately needed this win to prove that he has improved South Carolina football since takin the reins and to show that they have the potential to wreak some havoc in an always competitive SEC.

Moving into today’s games, it’s very hard to say that the Cal Golden Bears weren’t looking past Oregon because they basically stayed in Berkeley for this one, as the Ducks derailed the 6th-ranked team in the country, 42-3.  Jeremiah Masoli was spectacular, going 21/25 for 253 yards and 3 TD’s all to his favorite target in Ed Dickson.  Major kudos to the Oregon defense in this one, though, as Jahvid Best was almost a complete non-factor, as he was limited to 55 yards on the ground by a team that now has a couple of wins under its belt to help forget their season-opening losses to Boise State, and yes, I meant losses, lest we forget LeGarrette Blount.

The last game the really impacts the early season look at the rankings was the biggest game of the weekend.  Apparently Virginia Tech forgot that this game was supposed to be the statement win for the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC and their entry into serious consideration for the BCS because the Hokies dominated from start to finish in an impressive 31-7 beatdown of the ‘Canes.  Va. Tech won it exactly the way a Frank Beamer coached team usually wins games with a suffocating defense that held the ‘Canes to 209 total yards of offense, combined with a physical and grinding rushing attack that tallied 272 total yards of offense and 2 TD’s.  After it looked like the loss to Alabama ended hopes of a national title run and as much as they struggled against Nebraska last week, the Hokies proved once again to be the class of the ACC this year, leaving no doubt in this one, especially with the losses for Florida State and North Carolina today.

Embarrasment Alert: At the time of this post, the Greg Paulus-led Syracuse Orange are trailing the Maine Black Bears 17-13.  If this one falls in favor of Maine, then I think we can finally agree to say that the grand experiment of bringing in a guy who hasn’t played football since his senior year of high school is a complete failure. Also, keep an eye out west, where Cal Poly leads San Jose State, but we’ll cut the Spartans some slack because they are the sacrificial lambs for the USC’s and Cal’s of the world, so they don’t know how to play to win games.

Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Today we got a good look at why Pete Carroll is using Matt Barkley as his starting QB as the Aaron Corp-led USC Trojans were wiped out in Seattle by an overachieving Washington Huskies team, coached by none other than former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian, who engineered the right defense to stop USC’s offensive juggernaut.

UW is a year removed from one of the ugliest seasons in school history, a 1-11 campaign that they needed an ugly win in the Apple Cup against winless Washington State to avoid the big 0 in the wins column.  Now all of that has become nothing more than a painful memory as they join the list of unlikely Pac-10 schools to trip up USC, joining Oregon State from last year, and Stanford from two years ago.

For USC, this might not necessarily mean the end of their national title hopes, but it’s certainly an unexpected and devastating blow for a team that was coming off yet another big victory in Columbus over Ohio State.  Now they are almost forced to bring Barkley back as soon as possible and bring some confidence to an offense that was simply outplayed by the Washington defense, making 3 bad turnovers that allowed the Huskies to hang around and pull the upset.

Looking back eastward, it may not have been the predicted beatdown that was expected, but it can’t be argued the the top-ranked Florida Gators handled Tennessee with relative ease.  In a game that was a lot more a case of grit than glits and glamour, It was the Florida defense that played the biggest role, showing the limited ability of the Tennessee receivers to get open downfield and making very difficult on Vols QB Johnathan Crompton all day, who finished an almost unnoticable 11/19 for 93 yards and 2 INTs. 

The big story that came out of this one though might be Tim Tebow’s final numbers, or rather the lack thereof.  The Heisman hopeful looked rather pedestrian and even a little confused by the defensive schemes shown by Tennessee.  Add in the two turnovers that he had, which led to 10 of Tennessee’s 13 points and Tebow’s Heisman chances just declined a little bit.

Speaking of Heisman, Jahvid Best is giving his best effort to get himself into

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

 the conversation with an unbelievable 5 TD performance at Minnesota to stop the Golden Gohpers 35-21.  From what I saw from Cal and USC today, I would be circling October 3rd on the calendar as their head-to-head matchup might determine the Pac-10 champion this year.

Also of note would have to be the death of several non-BCS conference teams’ hopes of an undefeated season this year, with Utah suffering a 31-24 loss in The Autzen Zoo to the Oregon Ducks, who look like they’ve finally gotten it back together after the Boise State debacle, and BYU currently getting waxed by the Florida State Seminoles 44-21 in Provo, it looks like it’s going to be up to Boise State once again to carry the torch for the unlikelies to reach a BCS bowl this year.  Considering the Broncos remaining schedule, though, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see them undefeated and going into another big bowl game, and this time you’ll be certain not to underestimate them.

In another thrilling finish, the Virginia Tech Hokies escaped losing twice at home in a ranked foe, scraping past Nebraska 16-15, in a game that will be mostly remembered for its offensive ineptitude than anything else.  Nebraska once again failed to get into the end zone in a big game, limited to five field goals despite controlling most of possession throughout this battle.  On the other side, Va. Tech took an eternity to get their offense going yet again, with Tyrod Taylor looking both uncomfortable in the pocket as well as afraid to throw a bad pass, at times.  This led to the Hokies having a laughable offensive output of 278 yards, 91 of which came on the game-winning drive and 80 of which came on one play in the final drive.  Yet, as they’ve been asked to do time and again, the Tech defense went above and beyond expectations in keeping the Nebraska offense at bay, although they did get a good bit of help in the 4th quarter, when a Nebraska drive got down to the Va. Tech 6-yard line, only to have the Cornhuskers commit 30 yards worth of penalties to force an unlikely punt.  At the end of the day though, it sets up another battle for the Hokies, who now prepare to take on a resurgent Miami team next Saturday in a battle for ACC supremacy.

Cupcakes of the Week: Once again, the Capital region gets the dubious honor of having two of the biggest underachieving programs in the nation, in

Wazzus best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

Wazzu's best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

 Maryland and Virginia, both of which ended up on the wrong side of games put on the schedule that were supposed to be easy wins.  The Terps proved to be as soft as the Pillsbury doughboy as they folded 32-31 at home against Middle Tennessee State, while the Cavaliers lost 37-34 at home to Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles are usually one of Conference USA’s better teams, but that’s just it, they’re in Conference USA, which might be the second weakest conference ahead of the Sun Belt.  I give out one more dubious honor to the Washington State Cougars, who yet again found a way to lose, this time in overtime to SMU, who hasn’t been good since the late ’80s when they were the top of the Southwest Conference, only to have the program receive the death penalty from the NCAA due to serious violations.  Somewhere out there tonight, Drew Bledsoe is watching the highlights of his alma mater and thinking “Man, I played better than this when I was with the Bills!”

This week in college football there are several intriguing storylines, starting up right away on Thursday night with arguably one of the most important ACC games in the last few years when the Ramblin’ Wreck of #14 Georgia

Can Jacory Harris lead The U to another win on Saturday?

Can Jacory Harris lead The U to another win on Saturday?

 Tech goes into Dolphin/Pro Player/Land Shark/Joe Robbie Stadium to take on the 20th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.  It’s a big one not just on a conference scale for these two teams, but also on a national stage for the ACC as a whole.  So far this year, the ACC hasn’t looked like a legitimate BCS conference, with its top team in Virginia Tech falling at home to Alabama to open the season, as well as several other close calls and embarrassing losses in non-conference play for several of the conference’s members.  However, the winner of this game will very quickly become that ACC team that people will keep an eye on for the rest of the season, much like what happened with Butch Davis’ North Carolina Tar Heels last year.  For both teams that is a big deal.  For Georgia Tech, they’ve always been that good but not great college football program and although a win over Miami might not be their meal ticket into the national conversation, a loss would certainly kill any chance of that happening this year.  On the other side, there’s the Miami Hurricanes, led by Head Coach Randy Shannon, who after a couple of years of looking like he couldn’t hold a team together, looks like he might be onto something, especially with the surprising play of starting QB Jacory Harris in the U’s opening weekend upset of Florida State in Tallahassee.  For this once-proud and nationally revered program, this is another step toward the rebirth of what Miami football used to represent, both as the class of the ACC and a consistent national title contender.  Expect this one to be hotly contested from whistle to whistle.

Moving into the plethora of games on Saturday, there is one game for almost every college football fan that stands out amongst the rest.  Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers, coming off a home loss to UCLA, head into “The Swamp” and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to take on the #1 Florida Gators, who

Well, um, you see, um, we lost by 35 tonight because...THEY CHEATED!!! Wait, whats that? Oh, that was me? Um, er, no comment.

"Well, um, you see, um, we lost by 35 tonight because...THEY CHEATED!!!" Wait, what's that? Oh, that was me? Um, er, no comment.

haven’t forgotten what the Vols head coach said just a few months ago.  The fact of the matter is this: Kiffin can say anything he wants about Florida and commit as many NCAA violations as he likes and lie about NCAA violations committed by other teams, but it’s not going to help.  Florida as a team is miles ahead of where Tennessee is right now, especially after seeing what each team did last weekend.  All Kiffin did to himself was open the door to make it perfectly acceptable for Urban Meyer to keep Tim Tebow out on the field for all 60 minutes and run up the score if the opportunity presents itself.  I’m looking forward to the postgame press conference more than anything to see how Kiffin explains his team’s 21+ point drubbing. Should be fun.

Also on the slate, in the only other game pitting two Top 25 teams against each other, the #19 Nebraska Cornhuskers go into Lane Stadium to square off with the #13 Virginia Tech Hokies.  This one is another game involving

Beamer-Ball hasnt been so successful in big games lately.  Itll be interesting to see what happens against Nebraska.

"Beamer-Ball" hasn't been so successful in big games lately. It'll be interesting to see what happens against Nebraska.

two teams that feel like they have a lot to prove right now.  For Nebraska, they have to be feeling some level of disrespect because of the lack of attention they’re getting this year because they happen to play in the same conference as Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  This is a golden opportunity for the ‘Huskers to make a statement as we approach conference play, especially since a win on Saturday makes it quite conceivable that they will be unbeaten when they host Oklahoma on November 7th, with no games against ranked opponents on the slate before that showdown in Lincoln.  For Virginia Tech, this is a chance for redemption after the loss at home to Alabama two weeks ago, as well as a chance to reclaim their position as the class of an otherwise suspect ACC.

On a somewhat related note, I’d like to take a minute to recognize the passing of NCAA President Myles Brand, who passed away earlier today from complications from pancreatic cancer at age 67.  Brand will forever be remembered from his earlier days as the man who fired Bobby Knight at the University of Indiana, but his work as head of all major collegiate sports should be recognized as well.  Under his watch, the NCAA has continued to see increased exposure and revenues for the organization and its member schools.  Brand was also a no-nonsense person who sanctioned several high-profile schools for their blatant disregard for the importance of academics and the questionable actions of coaches.  Hopefully the next NCAA president will follow the example of Mr. Brand and continue to uphold the integrity of collegiate athletics.

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

Once again, college football fans have no reason to be unhappy with the way things went on a busy Saturday on the gridiron.  For those of you who might have missed some of what happened, here’s some brief recaps on some of the Top 25 action, as well as some games of note from outside the rankings:

No need to really talk about #1 Florida or #2 Texas as they ripped right on through their cupcake opponents in Troy and Wyoming, respectively, so let’s go right into the game of the week, where #3 USC escaped Ohio Stadium and the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 18-15.  This was a game that most people

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USCs game-winning drive in Columbus

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USC's game-winning drive in Columbus

expected USC to run away with based off of Ohio State’s performance last week at home against Navy, but give credit to the Buckeye’s defense, which did a great job of containing star RB Joe McKnight until the final drive of the game for the Trojans, where McKnight made several key runs to lift USC to the win.  The QB matchup was certainly the big draw to this game, but both Matt Barkley (who’s a freshman in case you hadn’t heard that enough yet) and Terrelle Pryor failed to deliver fireworks as neither threw a TD pass and they both had 1 INT a piece in a game that was far more defensive than anticipated.  That being said, the Trojans maintain their dominance over Big 11 foes.

Again we skip #4 Alabama’s waxing of FIU and get right into our upset of the week as the Houston Cougars stung the soon-to-be former #5 Oklahoma

This might have been Houstons biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

This might have been Houston's biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

State Cowboys 45-35.  After building a surprising 24-7 halftime lead in Stillwater, Houston was outscored 21-0 in the 3rd quarter and the dream seemed dead for a team most remembered for producing Andre Ware in 1991 from their “Fun ‘n Gun” offense.  However, the Cougs came rallying back on their old Southwest Conference opponent, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter in a furious rally to pull the upset.  The state of Oklahoma might just have to wait until next year for the National Champs to come from their backyards.

Continuing on down the list, no major surprises or scares for Penn State, BYU, Cal, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Va. Tech, or TCU, as they all had relatively easy days handling their FBS or FCS opposition.  This allows us to

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

 look right at what was almost the game of the week, as Michigan, in spite of all the turmoil within its program, manages to pull out a last second victory over the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The story of this game is Tate Forcier, who seems to be the man Rich Rodriguez has been searching for to run his spread offense, as Forcier threw for 240 and two TDs and also ran the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a score.  For Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen was very good, throwing for 336 yards and 3 TDs, but in the end it was not enough.  Expect a flip-flop between these two teams being in and out of the Top 25 on Monday.

The game that might have raised the most eyebrows this week had to have been UNC’s 12-10 escape of lowly UConn.  It wasn’t even that UConn stepped up, it was just that UNC looked that bad.  The #19 Tar Heels never found any offensive rhythm and needed 12 fourth quarter points, the final 2 coming on a safety on a penalty in the end zone, to get out of Hartford with a W.  It calls into question the overall quality of the ACC as a whole.  Several teams have looked very soft in the early going, and it might point to a tough year in the bowls for the conference.

The last game in the Top 25 of note this week was #21 Georgia holding off a huge late rally by South Carolina to defend their turf, 41-37.  Holding a 38-26 lead in the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs allowed the Gamecocks to score 11 straight points and creep back to within one at 38-37.  However, Georgia’s block of what would have been the game-tying PAT was just enough to secure the victory Between the Hedges.

Outside of the Top 25, there were three games that really caught my attention.  First was Tennessee’s 19-15 loss to UCLA at home.  Didn’t Lane Kiffin say something about beating Florida this year?  I know it’s just one game but UCLA is not the class of the Pac-10.  I wonder if Kiffin is wanting to take some of the things he said back yet.

Last, but certainly not least, my Cupcakes of the Week Award goes to both the University of Maryland, who narrowly escaped their home opener with a thrilling 38-35 victory over James Madison, and also to the Ball State Cardinals, who went from possible BCS busters last season to losing 23-16 at home to New Hampshire.  Listen, I understand that rebuilding years will happen and that sometimes the team just doesn’t show up for games against lesser opponents, but if you’re bigger budget, higher profile school is getting beaten by teams filled with your recruiting leftovers, then something is very wrong with what you as a college football program are doing.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the Terps play in the very mediocre ACC this year.

So there it is, another long Saturday in the books for football fans, but not to worry, for the NFL season is upon us!  Check back tomorrow night/Monday morning for a recap from Sunday’s games and a preview of the Monday Night games.

Game of the Week: Penn State at Ohio State

     vs.    

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Penn State beat Michigan, Ohio State defeated Michigan State

            So last week I did write a game of the week column for this website, but luckily it wasn’t published. I say luckily because the subject of that column was the Ohio State-Michigan State, and I picked Michigan State to win by a small margin. I was originally planning to write about the Texas-Oklahoma State game because I did not want to write about the same team two weeks in a row. However, since the column never was published, it would appear that I’d be writing about Texas two weeks in a row, and sometimes appearances mean more than realities. So for the fact that my OSU-MSU column was (fortunately) not published and the fact that if I wrote about Texas it would appear that I was writing about the same team two weeks in a row, I decided to write about the Ohio State – Penn State game. Not to mention, it’s a pretty big and possibly season defining game with national championship and Big 10 championship implications.

            The Big 10 and national championship implications are really the only important factors in the magnitude of this game. This isn’t like other weeks, where a win for team x implies such and such about their program’s progress or loss for team y implies such and such about that program. We’re too deep in the season for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases). All we care about now is about championship contenders, and because of that, I will refer to BCS rankings rather than AP or another poll (for the most part) from now on.

            Both Ohio State and Penn State were included in the top 10 of the initial BCS standings, with Penn State at # 3 and Ohio State at # 9. So, we have our first “legitimate” BCS top 10 match up on our hands this week. As for how they got there, both teams have their own story.

            Ohio State began the season with lofty expectations and the possibilities of reaching their 3rd straight national title game. They were the clear favorite to win the Big 10 and had a strong chance of running the table. Although analysts and fans admitted that Ohio State could lose a conference game, they typically believed only one true hurdle stood in the Buckeye’s way: USC. We all know now that that hurdle turned into a massacre and Ohio State plummeted in the polls worst than Wall Street has in the past two months. But, unlike the stock market, Ohio State has risen from the ashes with the emergence of the heralded Terrelle Pryor at quarter back and the return of running back and team leader Beanie Wells to full health. Currently, the Buckeyes sit atop the Big 10 and like many people expected, undefeated in conference play. Even with they loss, they have outside shot to get the national championship game if some things they can’t control go their way.

            In that last paragraph, I neglected to mention that Ohio State is not the only team at the top of the Big 10. The other team undefeated in conference play is – you guessed it- the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State has a completely different story than Ohio State. Although once a prominent and proud football program, the Nittany Lions fell into obscurity in recent years with a few exceptional or noteworthy seasons such as when Michael Robinson played quarterback for them a few years ago. They began the season unranked or at a low position in the polls but have worked their way up to the top of the rankings by simply winning every game they have played. Granted, the schedule appears to have been weak so far, but they did dominate Oregon State, who beat USC, who destroyed Ohio State, if that means anything (which it shouldn’t, just interesting to note). No matter the weakness of the schedule, however, Penn State has done all it has been capable of by winning its game and controls its own destiny for the rest of the season.

            But how did Penn State win their games? They simply dominated on the offensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions have scored at least twenty points every game and lead the Big 10 in scoring offense at 45.4 points per game. They are led by quarterback Daryll Clark who has thrown 11 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions and ranks 2nd in the Big 10 in passing efficiency. They have a pretty good running back in Evan Royster, who has 10 rushing touchdowns and leads the Big 10 in yards per carry and two senior receivers in Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, who rank among the leading receivers in the conference.

            Ohio State does not have as statistically as good of an offense as Penn State does, but you certainly have heard of their players. In fact, I’m tired of talking about the attributes of Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor because fans already know the importance of those two players to the Buckeyes. I will focus on defense instead.

Led by two potential first round draft picks in linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, the Ohio State defense can strike fear in most opponents.  Consider this: they held former national leading rusher, Javon Ringer, to 67 yards on 16 attempts and no touchdowns. They also rank 2nd in the conference in pass defense 3rd in scoring defense 2nd in total defense and 1st in rush defense.

          But Penn State’s defense isn’t too shabby either. In fact, they somehow managed to rank ahead of Ohio State in all of those categories except for rushing defense (they are 2nd in the Big 10).

          Also interesting to note, Penn State ranks 1st in 3rd down conversion and 1st in opponent 3rd down conversion. Such intangibles could be crucial. Still other intangible might play a larger role. For instance, the game is at Ohio State, and Penn State has not won their since the 1970s.

 

Prediction: This is a really difficult game for me to predict, but I will stay conservative and go with the Buckeyes, 38-35. I feel like owe it to them since I picked them to lose last week, but more legitimately, Penn State hasn’t proven anything to me yet. Yes, their statistics are amazing and their coach is hall of famer, but they haven’t beaten a quality opponent yet. Now, Ohio State hasn’t really beaten anyone noteworthy either, but they have dominated the Big 10 the past couple of years even if they’ve choked in prominent national games. That, plus the fact that the game is at Ohio State has convinced me to pick the Buckeyes.

 

Look Back Last Week: Nothing to say, I was completely wrong. Michigan State is pretty much a fraud.

 

Look Back Two Weeks: The Red River Shootout turned out to be quite the shootout. Even though Texas won by 10 points, it was close throughout; Texas just made a few more big plays, and those plays were the difference. As for Oklahoma, they still are in good shape. They fell about 3 spots in the polls and still have a change for the Big 12 title and a remote hope for the national championship game. Texas controls its own destiny for a BCS title, but at least on paper, they have a difficult road ahead, starting this week with Missouri. PS: Don’t be surprised if Texas appears in this column again next week, depending on what happens on Saturday.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer